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Confidence soaring for WVU defense

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- West Virginia's players were headed to the locker room after Saturday's 17-10 victory against Louisville, but coach Bill Stewart told them to stay on the field at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium a little longer.

The Mountaineers spent five more minutes celebrating their first road win in Big East play. After watching such defensive domination, their fans had a lot to cheer for.

"We think we're the best defense in the nation," senior linebacker J.T. Thomas said. "We want to have that kind of attitude. We want to be the best. If we keep playing the way we are playing, we can keep that up."

The Mountaineers are the only team in the nation to have given up 21 points or fewer in every game. They also are fourth in the nation in total defense and scoring defense.

Against Louisville, West Virginia held the Cardinals to 26 rushing yards and didn't allow an offensive touchdown. The defense has allowed just two TDs in the past 14 quarters.

"Our kids have done such a terrific job," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "Our kids are playing with confidence, and they're playing well. The key is to finish well."

The Mountaineers' third-down defense is the best in the country, allowing 21.7 percent of conversions. Of the 138 third downs it has faced this season, West Virginia has given up just 30 first downs.

"We're just confusing the heck out of the quarterback right now," Thomas said. "Our defense just wants to come out and dominate people. That's a great attitude to have."

In the past two games, West Virginia has allowed just two third-down conversions in 25 opportunities. On Saturday, the Mountaineers held Louisville's strong rushing attack to a 2-for-13 mark on third down.

"That's a must-win down. When your backs are up against the wall, you've got to win," said defensive end Bruce Irvin, who had two sacks. "We go out there and play every down like it's a must-win."

Irvin, the players said, has been the key to third-down success. The junior-college transfer has 10 sacks as a pass-rushing specialist.

"I haven't seen an (offensive) lineman that can block him yet," cornerback Keith Tandy said. "He plays 10 or so plays per game, and you see him have two sacks per game. It's impressive."

Pitt, which is 75th in the country in total offense, will try to end the trend Friday in the Backyard Brawl. That may be a difficult proposition.

"I've got so much confidence in this team," Irvin said. "As long as we've got the lead, we're good -- because we know we have one of the best defenses in the nation."

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